WOMEN IN MUSIC
From Madonna to Adele, Duffy to Björk, Goldfrapp to Cat Power, female artists are making the most striking sounds in music right now. In so many ways, it was always thus.
Different musicians ask Madonna questions.
What motivates you in life?
Deborah Harry, Blondie.
Madonna: The word “no”. [Laughs]
“It’s a man’s world,” sang James Brown, “but it’d be nothing without a woman.” Wise words, Godfather. For starters, they keep reinventing music.
WORDS: VICTORIA SEGAL
Pages 82 & 83
From Norah Jones to Duffy, 20 leading female artists pick the women whose music has changed their lives – and the world.
Pop’s original blonde bombshell.
By Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon
“When I was an art student in the early ’80s, I was really into Andy Warhol and pop art. I saw Debbie Harry as being incredibly pop art herself; not because she was self-consciously trying, but because she was so iconic. I just thought she was cool because there was such a sense of irony in everything she did. She was sexy but she had a sense of humour about it – she didn’t wear her sexuality on her sleeve with big, fake breasts or cleavage.
“I was always amazed that Blondie were as popular as they were, because their music was so different to everything else at the time. With tracks like Atomic and Heart Of Glass, they bridged the divide between punk and disco, which was a big thing at the time. I fell more on the punk side, and, for me, the first two Blondie albums [1976’s Blondie and 1977’s Plastic Letters] were the best, because they’re the rawest.
“Blondie always seemed very much a band, which I thought was cool. The punk scene opened things up for women in music, and it paved the way for the [arty late-’70s movement] no wave scene that inspired me so much when I moved to New York. I admired Debbie Harry, but I didn’t think I could be like that. She was so glamorous, and I was completely the opposite.
“I didn’t move to New York until 1980, so I didn’t get to see Blondie perform at CBGB or Max’s Kansas City because they were already huge by then. I’ve met Debbie a few times at New York fashion shows over the past few years. [Designer] Marc Jacobs hosted a Blondie party and she called me up personally to invite me, which was sweet. That’s been my main impression of her – she’s very nice, very generous and very sweet.”
Debbie Harry fronts Blondie, the band she formed in 1975 with guitarist and then-boyfriend Chris Stein. She has notched up six UK Number 1 singles with the band.
Blondie – Parallel Lines
The girl group era’s leading lady.
By Deborah Harry
“When I was first posing in front of the mirror and entertaining the idea of being a rock singer, the girls I looked up to were black R&B singers: Martha Reeves, Diana Ross, Ronnie Spector.
“For me, Ronnie embodied the R&B side of rock. Physically she was very pretty and very sexy, but the first thing that hits you is her voice: the sound of her voice is special – it’s magnetic. It’s that thing about having a connection with your emotional core and that coming out in your voice – she definitely has that. Coupled with the excitement of the music – that [Phil] Spector production sound and the sexiness of it all – it was a terrific package.
“[The Ronettes’ Phil Spector-produced 1963 hit] Be My Baby is an extraordinary song. Looking back, the peculiarity of that creation is amplified by the peculiarity of Phil Spector and the way his personality evolved over the years, but for that great spark of creativity that happened when the two of them were together, I think she must have really inspired him.
“[Blondie producer] Mike Chapman invited Ronnie to come to the studio in New York and sing on [Blondie’s classic 1978 album] Parallel Lines, but the song wasn’t released – I’m not sure why. The main thing I remember from the session is her being very nervous about her singing, but she was stunning and it was wonderful having her there and listening to that beautiful voice.
“I’ve met Ronnie a few times since then. She throws an annual Christmas party in New York and she invited me to come and introduce her once. It was an honour and treat for me to walk onstage and say: Here she is, the one and only, the legendary Ronnie Spector.”
As leader of The Ronettes in the early ’60s, Ronnie Spector helped usher in the era of the girl group. Following a troubled six-year marriage to producer Phil Spector, she all but retired from music for 30 years. Her 1999 comeback album, She Talks To Rainbows, was produced by Ramones frontman and longtime fan Joey Ramones.
The Best Of The Ronettes